The increase, expected to generate $7.9 million to cover an operating deficit and provide employees a small, one-time bonus, sparked an outcry among some taxpayers who argued that they weren’t getting anything new in return for the annual increase, amounting to $122.50 for the owner of a $200,000 home.
After Mayor Deke Copenhaver broke a 5-5 tie to pass the 1.75-mill increase, the countywide rate to be charged for consolidated government operations is 9.792 mills.
Even with the increase, only a handful of Georgia county governments – including Glynn, Hall, Columbia and Floyd – have millages lower than Augusta’s, though most of them include municipalities that charge additional taxes.
Among governments similar to Augusta’s, Macon-Bibb, Columbus-Muscogee, Athens-Clarke and Chatham, home of Savannah, all have countywide rates exceeding 11 mills. Newly consolidated Macon-Bibb leads the bunch at 19.502 mills for residents inside the former Macon city limits, with the promise that rates will be lowered in subsequent years.
Columbus-Muscogee, very similar in size and composition to Augusta, levies 17.18 mills.
What pushes Augusta-Richmond County up in tax rate rankings is school taxes. After a slight reduction recently, the Richmond County Board of Education charges a rate of 19.972 mills. That is higher than rates for the Bibb, Chatham, Glynn, Dougherty, Floyd, Hall, Lee and Columbia school systems, but lower than those in Muscogee and Clarke.
Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith, despite voting against the increase Monday, dismissed the idea that ordinary residents rely heavily on mill rates in choosing where to live.
“I really don’t think it’s a consideration,” he said. “I think it’s the school system, how close they are to their workplace, the quality of the house they want to buy and the neighborhood. I think there are a lot of things on the check list that go before the property tax rate.”
The city competes for residents with Aiken County, where taxes are calculated differently.
While Georgia counties charge the millage against 40 percent of a home’s assessed value, South Carolina assesses a millage against just 4 percent of a home’s value. The Aiken County millage is 69.9 mills, while the school tax rate is 170.6 mills.
The rates generally are a basis for comparison and give taxpayers an idea about their upcoming bill, but don’t themselves offer a complete picture of the tax burden on residents because they’re tied to property values. Higher rates applied against lower values might generate the same revenue, for instance, as lower rates applied against higher property values.
The site tax-rates.org calculates the property tax burden on residents as a percentage of their property’s value or a percentage of their income.
In Augusta-Richmond County, where the median home value is $100,000, residents pay a median county tax bill of $911 and an average of 1.83 percent of their annual income in property taxes. In Columbia County, where the median home value is $168,700, residents pay a median tax bill of $1,466, according to tax-rates.org. The bill is nearly 2 percent of a taxpayer’s annual income.
In Columbus-Muscogee, where tax rates are higher and the median home value is $132,000, residents pay a median tax bill of $701 and an average of 1.23 percent of their annual income in property taxes.
Tax-rates.org notes that South Carolina has among the lowest property tax burdens in the country. Aiken County homeowners pay a median tax bill of $588, or an average of 1 percent of their annual income in property taxes.